Luongo, Brodeur, Wings, fans ... it all makes sense

Where would the Vancouver Canucks be without Roberto Luongo? Not in the playoff picture, that's for sure.

In fact, don't be surprised if Luongo helps the Canucks pull off what the Edmonton Oilers did last season -- an improbable run to the Stanley Cup finals. If the Canucks just make the postseason, Luongo still has to be considered a strong candidate for league MVP.

Wait … did you hear that sound? It's the sound of laughter from Martin Brodeur fans!

These fans have proclaimed, "If there is a goalie that deserves MVP honors this season, it's Brodeur." I hear where you're coming from Devils fans. Brodeur has that Michael Jordan quality about him. He's a cutthroat competitor who will do whatever it takes to win. But here's the reality: Brodeur will never get the props he truly deserves because of the team he plays for. There will always be a "yeah, but" following the fans' proclamations.

"Brodeur is currently the best goalie in the NHL, maybe even of all time."

"Yeah, but, look at the defensive-minded team he's got around him. He may make the spectacular save, but there's always somebody in front to clear a rebound or prevent the odd-man rush."

To me, hockey's greatest all-time netminders are Brodeur and Patrick Roy. But for this season, at this moment, if you're talking Most Valuable Player, I have to go with Luongo. I know Brodeur leads most statistical categories, but Luongo is carrying the Canucks and making up for Markus Naslund's slow offensive start (the captain has picked things up of late).

Wouldn't it be a kick save and a beauty if Marty and the Devils were waiting for them in the Cup finals?

As long as we're talking about June and the Stanley Cup finals …

Don't look for Carolina and Edmonton to be fighting for Lord Stanley for a second straight season. I don't even think they're making the playoffs. Carolina just doesn't seem to have "it" this season and Edmonton has too much ground to make up in the West.

Speaking of the playoffs …

You can feel the playoffs getting closer as game intensity has been turned up on a notch since the All-Star break.

I've seen bodies colliding with each other. I have witnesses to prove it. I have seen a few fights as teammates stick up for each other in battle. I've seen NHL referees let the players play, only calling the obvious infractions. (I thought I was dreaming but it was real.)

With a quarter of a regular season to go, games matter now. The alarm clock has gone off for many of these players. The math has been done by coaches whose teams are fighting for a playoff berth. Their mantra: "Let's just get invited to the party. Anything is possible in the postseason."

In the East, it's wide open, too close to call. But you have to like the way the New York Islanders are playing. They've modeled themselves after their division rival (Devils) and the strategy is working well enough to make a late push. I told you back in October to watch out for Ted Nolan and his Isles.

Along with Carolina, I think Ottawa will have a hard time making the postseason. If that happens, the Sean Avery-injected Rangers could crawl back into the hunt. If the Rangers are out in April, will Mark Messier end up as GM? Would he bring back Mike Keenan as coach? Just asking, not predicting. The Maple Leafs could get in if they make a deal and bring in some help for captain Mats Sundin.

Remember that prediction I made back in October about Columbus making the playoffs?
I was hoping you didn't. Obviously, that's not happening. The Blue Jackets won't be alone on the golf course in April, joining the aforementioned Oilers, Coyotes, Blues, Blackhawks and Kings. The final playoff berth in the West will come down to Minnesota and Colorado. Either team will be battle-tested, considering they come from the NHL's most competitive division, the Northwest.

Who will win the top spot in the West? I like Detroit. All you have to do is look at the schedule down the stretch. The Red Wings have the edge over Anaheim and San Jose, whose level of competition is much higher. Detroit's competition? Central Division rival Nashville. The two teams still have to play each other five more times before the end of the regular season (hey NHL, nice scheduling). If the race isn't locked up by the last week of the regular season, Detroit will sew it up with back-to-back home-and-home series against the Jackets and Hawks.

As long as I'm pumping up Detroit …

Last Monday, Red Wings fans were out in force as they invaded Madison Square Garden in a rare Detroit visit to the Big Apple. From my vantage point, not a single plastic bottle was thrown nor an obscenity tossed by Rangers fans. Looks like the new, and nicer, NHL is having an effect in the stands, too? Well, at least when the Flyers are not in town.

And speaking of those rare visits …

Detroit is an East Coast team playing in the Western Conference. They do so much travel during the regular season, they're a tired team in the playoffs. When push comes to shove, will all that travel catch up with the Wings? Or will we see them overcome last season's first-round exit and make a long playoff run?

If the Wings want to win their first Cup since the 2001-02 season, they might have to get past a few guys named Luongo and Brodeur.

Hooked on hockey, Linda Cohn is an anchor for ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNEWS. She has been with the network since 1992 and promises a gluttony of glove saves in her weekly column. You can e-mail her at linda.cohn@espn.com.